“No future, no future, no future for you”
- Sex Pistols, “God Save The Queen”
Just how bleak is the future of radio? Eric Rhodes of Radio Ink had this to write after attending a media conference:
After the conference, I had a meeting with a prominent radio colleague and we shared horror stories about missteps in our industry. He feels radio is making too many foolish mistakes. I don’t entirely disagree.
As I traveled to the airport and then home I realized I was depressed, and I could not understand why. Then it struck me. Radio is flat, radio is not innovating, radio is not doing much of anything new. In contrast, I saw all these companies doing exciting things, changing consumer behavior and innovating. I wanted that for radio.
Though my depression has passed, I am concerned that we as an industry are not breaking our chains from the past. Do our stations really sound any different than they did five years ago? How about 30 years ago? Most morning shows sound pretty much the same, and have since Scott Shannon and Steve Kingston innovated the Z Morning Zoo decades ago. Our playlists continue to repeat “the biggest hits,” and even our sounders and ID voiceovers sound about the same as they have since Star Wars (and light saber sound effects) came out. What are we doing to reflect today?
This is a good question. What is radio doing to reflect today? What is it doing to attract young listeners?
Pssst! Hey, kids! Your parents used to listen to Z-100! What do you mean that’s not exciting? Fine, go listen to your iPod. Waste your allowance money on a Spotify subscription. You’ll only get what you want when you want it. After you get tired of that, what’s left?
Eric Rhodes continues with a suggestion to make radio exciting:
Is it possible that our 1 to 2 percent growth industry could break out into the stratosphere if we tried something new to reinvigorate our stations, electrify our listeners, and bring up time spent listening? I encourage station owners and groups to take their few unsuccessful signals, find some 20-year-olds to staff them, and let them try something new. Though it seems impractical and possibly even irresponsible, that’s exactly how FM killed AM. (And the lower spotloads also had a lot to do with it.)
Well, why not? Let’s turn the clock back 30+ years ago, and look at a little FM station known as WLIR. At the time they were deciding on a new direction for the station. They could have chosen and adult contemporary format, and taken the safe road, or try this “new music” that no one else was touching. They decided to take a risk, and play artists like the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and U2. In doing so, they found a fiercely dedicated (and youthful) audience, and made radio exciting.
Could something similar happen in 2014? Could WRXP rise from the ashes once again, offering something dramatically different from what can be gotten from the on-demand world of Spotify? Which struggling FM can/will be transformed itself into something vibrant and exciting? Only the future knows.